What are the primary drivers of air pollution in Kampala and are there any indications of how bad it’s?

Generally, I’d say the primary drivers of air pollution in Kampala are transport, industry, burning of wood or charcoal and burning of waste.

Kampala is Uganda’s political capital and financial district contributing to over 30% of Uganda’s GDP. The city hosts greater than 32% of the country’s manufacturing facilities and so industrial emissions from activity – similar to metal processing, furniture, textiles and plastics – will contribute a big amount of pollution to the air

It’s a really busy city, with thousands and thousands using buses, private vehicles and motorbikes to commute out and in on daily basis. A great deal of pollution subsequently comes from vehicle emissions and heavy traffic congestion. To make matters worse, a lot of the vehicles in Kampala are pre-owned and, until 2018, the typical fleet age was greater than 15 years. These vehicles have a faster rate of damage and tear resulting in the next environmental footprint. And with just 30% paved road network, dust from unpaved road surfaces and road construction activities will contribute to particulate matter within the air.

In addition to this, greater than 90% of households in Kampala depend on charcoal and firewood as an energy source for cooking.

And because there’s poor solid waste disposal, one other key contributor of air pollution is the open burning of garbage.

You’ve began to fabricate machines that monitor air quality. How do they do that and who will probably be using them?

Kampala, like many other cities in sub-Saharan Africa, has a critical data gap on the size and magnitude of air pollution.

This challenge inspired my students and I to create AirQo, a low-cost air quality monitoring system which was publicly launched earlier this yr. To my knowledge, that is the one locally developed system that’s been designed and optimised to assist African cities – with limited resources and poor infrastructure – to measure and track air pollution trends.

AirQo devices primarily measure particulate matter – a combination of solid particles within the air – which may have hostile effects on our health once we inhale them.

The devices repeatedly take samples of air from a location and use a lightweight scattering method to quantify the concentration of particulate matter. These measurements are transmitted, in near real-time, to the cloud-based AirQo to predict local pollution.

AirQo device.
Makerere University

The devices are locally designed to resist the environmental conditions of many African cities, similar to dust and extreme weather. They also include a big selection of information transmission and power options so that they can operate in areas where there is restricted access to power or poor web connectivity.

The AirQo device may be deployed at static locations or on mobile platforms, similar to motorcycles locally called ‘boda-bodas’. Having them on moving objects improves our spatial coverage and determination. This implies that as a substitute of shopping for one device that only collects data in a single area, you’ve gotten one device that may collect data from multiple data points. This is a brand new innovation which implies that data may be collected from a wider area including, off-road areas that will normally be difficult to put in static monitors.

Since 2018, for our own research purposes, now we have deployed a network of over 80 devices across Uganda with over 45 in Kampala and in other towns. Some of the AirQo monitors are installed in schools or at private premises, similar to shops.

The users of the info collected include government, public (businesses, individuals, and civil society organisations), and academia.

So far, our data (which has been collected since 2018) indicates that the degrees of particulate matter peaks within the morning (between 6 and 9am), then flattens within the afternoon and peaks again after 5pm. This is consistent with major cities in other parts of the world. Overall, we’ve seen that Kampala’s particulate matter levels are about five times over World Health Organisation guidelines.

Has this technology been used anywhere else and the way does it compare to other air quality monitoring systems?

Traditional air quality monitoring systems are expensive. They cost a whole lot of hundreds of dollars to arrange and maintain and require specialised expertise which is just not available in lots of places. This means only just a few may be installed, leading to limited readings.

Before starting the manufacture of AirQo monitors at Makerere University, we experimented with some lower-cost monitors but these didn’t fit the context. For example, various monitors assume the provision of constant power supply and WiFi, and are designed for less dusty environments.

Unlike these systems, the AirQo takes the considerations and constraints of an African city into the design.

How do you hope this data will probably be used?

We hope that the air quality data and knowledge from our network may be used to tell decision-making and actions by city governments and regulators to manage, higher manage and improve air quality within the Kampala area and beyond.

For instance, Uganda is creating latest air quality regulations and data from the AirQo network has been useful in informing possible targets.

Having this data is helpful for policymakers. For instance, we contributed to the World Bank report on the Pollution Management and the Making of Prosperous Cities Program.

We also hope our data will raise awareness amongst residents in regards to the quality of air. We send out regular monthly air quality calendars to the faculties that host AirQo monitors so that they can educate the youngsters about air pollution issues.

And now we have developed an app that folks can use to access historical, real-time and forecast air quality data within the areas where they live or work. This can inform decisions that minimise exposure to high levels of air pollution, similar to going out during peak pollution hours.

This article was originally published at theconversation.com